Living by the Book
Teaching SuggestionsPrint this Page
- Subject(s): Language Arts & Literature
- Region / Country: Asia & Pacific Islands / Republic of the Fiji Islands
- Grade Level(s): 9–12
Reading for pleasure or cultural sensitivity? Guide your students through the cultural complexities of life on a Fijian island.
- Living by the Book by Donna Gessell
- Have the students read the story for homework, individually in class, or aloud in class.
- Ask students what their attitudes are toward reading. Do they like to read? If so, what do they like to read? When do they like to read? If not, what do they prefer to do instead? Why do they not like reading? Do they have relatives who read a lot? Do they know anyone who reads too much? Why do they think they read too much?
- How are people in the United States told to perceive the act of reading? [Public service announcements say reading is a good thing. Movies portray people who read too much as nerdy. The act of reading and owning books is considered a sign of intelligence. Book clubs and bestseller lists highlight the social aspects of reading.]
- According to Donna Gessell, how is reading perceived in Fijian culture? [As anti-social and unhealthy. The author compares perceptions of reading among Fijians as similar to American perceptions of alcoholism.] Why? [Fijian was not a written language until relatively recently, dominance of other forms of communication, limited artificial light.]
- Instead of reading, what do people in Fiji do? [Converse: discuss issues, tell jokes, gossip.] Contrast this with what an American or many American family might choose to do at night instead of reading. Why was it important that Donna take part in these discussions? [She learned a lot of valuable information that aided her in her job.]
- The author relates a story in which she is introduced as someone who "even cooks by the book." What does the phrase "by the book" mean? [To do something step-by-step, in as exact a fashion as possible.] How does the speaker use the phrase in this case? [The author's friend uses it to illustrate that Donna not only reads a lot, but follows books where conventional knowledge and oral communication would be more than ample.] Why does the speaker find the use of a cookbook particularly odd? [Cooking is perceived as something that is passed on orally, rather than learned from a book.]
- At the end of the story where Donna's house catches on fire, she says the Fijians "recognized my values even though they did not share them." What values are those? [In this case, reading.] What are the two instances the author points out where Fijians recognize her values? [Her house catching fire and building a library.]
- At one point in the story, the author asks herself, "Which was healthier: participating in community talk or solitary reading?" Ask students to answer the question from the author's perspective based on what they have read.
- Here are two examples of Fijian proverbs: "Listen to the wisdom of the toothless ones" and "Idleness is to be dead at the limbs but alive within." How do these proverbs reflect the story's themes? [The first proverb hints at the value of oral traditions; the second emphasizes the value of action.] Are there examples of American proverbs that highlight written traditions? ["Use a book as a bee does a flower" and "Don't judge a book by its cover."]